So far it has been a relatively uneventful summer here on earth. But a harrowing conflict is raging in the dark expanse of the Internet, in which sprawling, timeless empires vie for control over the cardboard empires. It’s the annual Space Cats Peace Turtles Twilight Empire Tournament, and it could be the world’s largest tournament for the world’s longest board game.
Twilight Empire, now in its fourth edition, is a 4X game, an acronym that refers to exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination. In it, up to six players take on the role of powerful space empires that are determined to rule the galaxy. Games can last four or more hours, which makes the title synonymous with overly long, overwrought tabletop experiences. but Twilight Empire has a dedicated following, and there are no more die-hard players in the universe than Matt Martens and Hunter Donaldson.
Martens (a film and television industry veteran) teamed up with Donaldson (a self-proclaimed “fourth place regional stand-up comedian”) in 2017 to create the Space Cats Peace Turtles, on Podcast dedicated Twilight Empire and similar strategy games. The name is a nod to two of the game’s most popular factions, the Emirates of Hacan (the Space Cats) and the Xxcha Kingdom (the Peace Turtles). Despite a series of novels full of sensible backstories, Martens and Donaldson prefer to dwell on the absurdity of it all.
“There’s a cat on the cover and it’s a money cat,” Donaldson told Polygon. “The cat has a lot of money. The wallet cat who likes to bargain, OK? And it lives on a desert planet. These are all inexplicable things. This is just a list of things. […] There are also turtles who enjoy diplomacy. Your standard diplomacy turtles. But in all honesty, when you look at a turtle, you don’t think, ‘Oh, that turtle would be good at discussing political negotiations with me.’ There’s nothing special about turtles that should mean that. “
Despite, or perhaps because of, the inconsistencies in fiction, the Space Cats Peace Turtles podcast has developed quite a following. One of the most eager listeners is Dane Beltrami, the co-designer of Twilight Empirefourth edition. He credits the podcast for bringing life to the game’s community – and helping promote the latest expansion. Prophecy of kings
“They basically made this community big enough to support something like Prophecy of kingswhich is huge, “Beltrami told Polygon,” it’s the biggest addition to any game we’ve ever made. “He says the couple were also involved in the development and testing.
“Because I’m so involved in the community that I can’t be,” Beltrami continued, “they knew a lot of people – people who were really into the game, who could play 10 games a week and were still ready to leave . They knew the people who were really excited about new content, the people who were so strategic they were ten times better than I could ever hope to be at the game. “
The Space Cats Peace Turtles tournament began in 2018 with 108 players, all of whom are members of the podcast’s Patreon community. The final, a four-hour, six-player game, was played on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium – home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts – during May 51.
This year’s tournament is bigger than ever with 336 players despite the ongoing global pandemic. Games are played online using Tabletop simulator and a free to download Community-made mod.
“We had 216 players who signed up in five minutes,” said Martens, “which scared us. […] We’re trying to treat it more like a gift and an event for our patrons – partly for legal reasons. We are not […] Price support or pretend. It’s just a community event where you all play a part. “
“Every year we look at this and say, ‘Well, we’re definitely going to hit the ceiling,'” Martens continued. “‘There will only be a limited number of nerds willing to take in this type of content.’ And every year we’re wrong, and it turns out that more people are willing to look at things like that. “
The final game begins live on Saturday, August 7th at 10am EDT on Twitch. You can meet the finalists on the next episode of the Space Cats Peace Turtles podcast, which goes live on August 4th.